I struggle with calling myself an educator. Despite the fact that I work daily with the children of Muslim Indian immigrants, ranging from age 4 to 13, on grammar, the quadratic equation, and reconstruction of the United States after the Civil war, being called Ms. Maegan feels uncomfortable. Despite the fact that I have helped at least half a dozen teachers achieve their Master’s degrees in teaching in New York City, the fact that I am a college dropout cannot be erased. But yes, I am an educator.
It started out by being educated. I was never a student in the public school system of the Empire State. Always considered a “smart girl”, I earned myself a place in private and parochial schools for my elementary years and a place in a competitive all-girls’ Catholic prep school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for my high school education. But something interesting happened to this Nuyorican girl who was raised by Puerto Rican immigrants to think of herself of a white girl with a Spanish surname. I met some revolutionaries, former Young Lords, members of the Black Liberation Army, and the Black Panthers and suddenly had a “click” moment. I was a woman of color with a history and a narrative that had been denied to me for years in the name of success and assimilation. It took a group of men who struggled and continued to struggle against a racist system to open my eyes to a world beyond ballet, classical piano, and EuroAmerican history.
Then again, I wouldn’t call myself an accidental activist.
It all happened very naturally. From the moment I met Richie Perez (RIP) at a Muevete conference for young Boricuas. I wept the way a person weeps when they find Jesus. I threw myself into the work of working for Latinos in the U.S, specifically Ricans and other Latinos who had lost their own sons to police brutality in New York City under Mayor Giuliani. I found my calling. That calling was working to create community in the name of justice. During that time, in the late 1990’s, Giuliaini time, I was accepted into a liberal arts college in New England, and struggled with being the first Rican white New England young men and women came into contact with. As I read Andalzua and organized events for the Puerto Rican political prisoners, I saw myself as part of a wider Pan-Latino community, as part of a wider person of color community. So much so that I couldn’t, in good faith remain in Klu Klux Klan country Maine. I ended up in Chile.
In Chile, I ditched classes at el Instituto Chileno- NorteAmericano to hang with Chilenos and face tear gassing “Pacos”, Chilean police, on the anniversary of the U.S sponsored coup. In Chile, I fell in love and ended up pregnant by a Mapuche in country where abortion was illegal. I returned to NYC, a young, unmarried pregnant college dropout. I continued organizing and running security for the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights with the the only pansa.
The day after the march across the Brooklyn Bridge against the police abuse of Abner Louima, I gave birth to my first child, la MapucheRican.
When la MapucheRican was school age, my activism had to change. I couldn’t get arrested in front of One Police Plaza anymore. I was responsible for the education of this brown girl who came from me. Putting her into the NYC public school system was a new learning process for me. As a mujer with a Spanish language surname , it was assumed that my copper-colored child did not understand English and she was placed into English as a Second language class, despite her five years growing up in a fully bilingual household. She was pulled out of her regular classes and her grades suffered. She was deemed in danger of failing. I was far from the stereotypical absent parent. I was an active member of the Parent-Teacher Association and yet the racist NYC Department of Education managed to track my child. I began to work actively with the immigrant families of my daughter’s school, making sure they understood what their children were doing and why, and that way began to work privately with many immigrant children to make sure that they succeeded in spite of language and racial discrimination, in spite of the biased standards of No Child Left Behind.
La MapucheRican is 12 years old. She’s no longer considered an ESL student but I work with the children of immigrants, some undocumented. I proudly call myself a radical tutor. Daily, I work with young women of color, making sure that yes, they will pass all their state-wide tests with flying colors but perhaps more importantly, they will have a strong sense of self. This includes their ethnic, racial and sexual history. That is something that is not included in the standards shoved down their throats in order to maintain positive statistics. I want them to be able to think critically about the world around them so that they can find their place in it. I do this for my own children and for the children of others. I call myself Mamita Mala not because I am really a bad mother but rather because I am a mother oin a community where we were told we weren’t supposed to survive. Carolina, Gabriela, Amisa, Nimesha, Sana , Alisha, Afsha, Nisha and Afrin , you will survive and more importantly, grow.
Maegan ‘La Mamita Mala’ Ortiz